A new look defence lined up in a 4-4-2:
New signing Alan Wright (easily mistaken for a mascot as he ran out) slotted in at left-back as a replacement for the suspended Bennett and Chambers got his first start at centre-half for the injured Wesley - with Curtis in at right-back. The rest of the team lined up unchanged.
My immediate thought was "it's going to be one of those days" as a lazy kick-off ended up with the ball punted off the pitch. And the game started pretty poorly (despite Colin Fray's summary on the radio) with the ball staying in the air.
Until about ten minutes in. Alan Wright ("worst ... signing ... ever" according to some internet "pundits") started putting in a masterclass of full-back play. The sort of thing I've not seen from a red shirt since at least Brennan and Louis-Jean and more likely Pearce and Lyttle. The key to it was the timing of his runs. As we attacked down the right he would hold his run and cross the half way line at just the right time. Available in acres of space he gave us the option of a cross-field ball just as things were getting congested at the far side. A fast developing understanding with Commons and overlaps meant we had players open and could play the ball on the deck (rather than having to resort to our traditional hoof when crowded out by the opposition).
The first half was fantastic. At least four clear-cut chances; the best falling to Commons after Agogo ran most of the length of the pitch. The ball rebounded (I think off the keeper's legs) to Commons who put it wide. Their keeper worked overtime to keep the ball out, including a couple of saves that looked pretty spectacular from the far side of the pitch. Plus Gary Holt was pushed over in the penalty area, the generally useless referee waved play on and then booked Perchio for an innocuous trip.
Half-time and I was happy. The City Ground was happy. Decent, attacking, passing football. A non-existent Gillingham attack. Holt Snr was playing well, breaking up their attacks and pushing forwards. McGugan was everywhere, as was Perchio. Commons was a threat. Agogo and Lester were linking up well. Chambers particularly impressed me - pacey and vocal (captain material if you ask me). And, as I say, Alan Wright made all the difference. It wasn't all good though - the referee and his assistants were awful, Curtis had a tendency to play the high ball to nobody "in the channels" and there was just the nagging doubt that we would be made to pay for not putting the ball in the back of the net. And, of course, we are Nottingham Forest; notorious bottlers, unable to play for 90 minutes, always snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
So the second half started and we had no fluency, no passing and Gillingham came right at us. Frustration started building. Holt Snr stopped crossing the half way line. Wright was no longer in the game. But (and this is a big but) Smith was busy catching crosses and corners - quite an improvement. The downside being that we were giving away corners and letting them cross.
Twenty minutes into the second half and no fluency. Twenty-five minutes and the Trent End were screaming at the players, at Calderwood. Holt Snr became the devil once more. And Curtis. Agogo could not stay onside. Lester was marked out of the game. And as for Commons. He is the new scapegoat ... I'm not quite sure what mercurial means but I'm sure it applies to him. Thirty minutes in and I'm shouting "make a change". Finally Colin hears me and we see Tyson warming up. "Take off Commons, he's useless" says the bloke next to me. I'm thinking "Holt and Tyson for Agogo and Lester - they've done their best but we need to shake things up". The board goes up - Tyson on, Jack off. Boos ring around the ground as Nathan takes the field. "He's taken off someone who knows how to score. Calderwood's useless. Get rid of him" says a voice behind me. "One decent Lester" is the chant. Not helped by Tyson obviously being either low on form or confidence. Soon after, Agogo is replaced by Grant, also to boos.
But, eighty-five minutes in and Tyson wins a free kick. Commons stands by the ball. The referee tells the players to move back ten yards and then counts it out in fairy-steps. McGugan talks to Commons. We scream at the referee - "ten yards!" "It's time to earn your wages Krissy" I yell. And McGugan plays the ball around the wall and into the top corner, runs to the Trent End and goes absolutely mental. As do we.
However, we are Nottingham Forest. This is Colin Calderwood. Time to replace a midfielder with a defender, defend on the eighteen yard line and hold tight? No, Maloney replaces Commons and Calderwood is screaming at the players to push forwards. Grant, doing his "how dare you leave me on the bench" act, causes real problems for Gillingham and Tyson starts gaining sharpness. We could have had two. And it would have been deserved. We play out the four minutes of added time - not holding on but taking the game to them. The whistle blows. Chambers "does a Prutton" and is the first over to applaud the Trent End (closely followed by McGugan).
The referee and his assistants: clueless
We still cannot play for ninety minutes
Eight games to go. Four points between us and Brizzle. Eight points between us and Scunny. We have apparently got the easiest run in. We ought to have the best players. There are twenty four points to play for. Nottingham Forest: prize-bottlers or juggernaut? We'll find out soon enough.